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Bush to Deliver Ultimatum to Iraq - 2003-03-18

The Bush administration has declared the time for resolving the Iraq crisis through diplomacy has ended. President Bush will deliver an ultimatum Monday night to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to leave his country or face war. Diplomats and United Nations employees, including weapons inspectors, are now leaving Iraq ahead of a threatened U.S.-led invasion.

In the strongest sign yet that war is imminent, the United States, Britain and Spain decided early Monday to abandon weeks of diplomatic efforts to get U.N. approval of a draft resolution that would authorize war against Iraq for its alleged failure to disarm.

Secretary of State Colin Powell says there will be an ultimatum from President Bush, to be delivered on television Monday evening, telling Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein the only option left to avoid war is for him to go into exile.

"I can think of nothing that Saddam Hussein can do diplomatically. I think that time is now over," he said. "He had his chance. He's had many chances over the last 12 years and he has blown every one of those chances."

Mr. Powell indicated President Bush will likely lay out a deadline for the Iraqi leader and a number of his top aides to leave the country. The deadline is expected to provide time for diplomats still in Baghdad to get out as well, along with United Nations staff, all of whom have now been ordered out of Iraq by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan.

"We seem to be at the end of the road here," he said. "We will find a way of resuming our humanitarian activities to help the Iraqi people who have suffered for so long and do whatever we can to give them assistance and support."

Lacking Security Council approval, the U.N. chief also says the legitimacy of military action against Iraq will be questioned.

With more than a quarter of a million U.S. and British troops now in the Gulf region, the decision to end months of United Nations diplomacy on Iraq came early Monday, when the United States and Britain and Spain concluded that compromise among the 15 member U.N. Security Council on a resolution that would authorize quick war against Baghdad for its alleged failure to disarm had become impossible.

Britain's U.N. ambassador Jeremy Greenstock left no doubt that a veto threat from France was the reason why.

"We have had to conclude that council consensus will not be possible in line with resolution 1441," he said. "One country in particular has underlined its intention to veto any ultimatum, quote no matter what the circumstances, unquote."

But France's U.N. ambassador, Jean Marc de la Sabliere, insists U.N. weapons inspectors in Iraq are continuing to make progress and left no doubt Paris would in fact, block any resolution authorizing military action now.

"Not now, not now for one reason: the inspections are making progress and this is something which should be very clear to everyone that disarming Iraq through peaceful means is not only possible but is possible in a short time," he said.

Meanwhile, Iraq, which says it has no weapons of mass destruction, is preparing for war, with foreign minister Naji Sabri dismissing President Bush's expected call for Saddam Hussein to go into exile, instead labeling Mr. Bush a 'warmonger'.